UNDERGROUND CITY, IHLARA VALLEY & YAPRAKHISAR VILLAGE, Cappadocia, Turkey
At 09:30 we joined a local bus tour organized by a company called Greenline. The first stop was the famous underground cities of Derinkuyu. With 11 levels and roughly 85m at its deepest, Derinkuyu is the deepest underground city in the region. The guide explained that since the Hatti and Hittite period, inhabitants of Cappadocia had recognized the unique properties of the region’s volcanic rock and began to dig and carve out rock-cut structures. Underground cities were developed over many generations and expanded to their greatest extent during the Byzantine era. Inhabitants sometimes were forced to stay underground for months during wartime. Ventilation shafts, food storage, kitchens, churches and other essential amenities were found in the sophisticated sub-terrain network.
After Derinkuyu, the tour moved on to an 1.5 hour hike in Ihlara Valley, a lush green river gorge with some rock-cut churches and pigeon holes carved out on the cliff at both sides. At the end of the hike, we visited a cave church, and then headed our way to a local restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we arrived at the village of Yaprakhisar, which is often mistakenly claimed as the filming site of one of the Star Wars movies. Whether it was part of a Hollywood film set or not really makes no difference. The scenery of Yaprakhisar was phenomenal: local women and children in colourful clothing, shepherds and their herds of sheep, historical stone houses, cave dwellings and bizarre looking rock formations. Not sure about the others, but for me it did somehow resonate with my imagination of the landscape of a strange planet in a galaxy far far away.
A herd of sheep and their shepherds crossed our path as we entered Ihlara Valley.
We followed the herd for a little while before turning into the valley.
We entered Ihlara Valley from the high point and gradually walked down.
Other than shepherds, we hardly saw any visitors in the valley.
For most of the short hike we were walking along the river.
We stopped by a sleepy village for lunch.
Perhaps due to tourism in the area, even a small village had some decent carpet vendors.
The village of Yaprakhisar offers us a peek into the peaceful rural life with a dramatic backdrop.
Pigeon holes can be found on cliffs in Yaprakhisar.
The bizarre landscape in the surrounding is what makes Yaprakhisar famous.
With or without the unique rock formations, Yaprakhisar is a picturesque little hillside village.
Dramatic rock formations tower up the sky along the perimeter of the village.
For centuries, caves and pigeon holes were carved out from the cliffs of Yaprakhisar.
We had a brief moment walking around the peaceful village.
A brief encounter with the locals on the slope was definitely the highlight experience.
Despite we didn’t speak the language, we could feel the friendliness and peacefulness of the villagers.
Unlike Goreme or other touristy villages in Cappadoica, Yaprakhisar offered us a glimpse of the rural life of the locals.
GOREME OPEN AIR MUSEUM, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
Cappadocia is not just all about rocks. Since prehistorical times, humans had established cave dwelling and even underground communities in the area. Kingdoms rose and fell; trade routes came by and moved away; religions flourished and replaced by other religions as new settlers arrived. The Hatti community emerged in 2500 BC, then came the Hittites, Assyrians, Phrygians, and Persians. In AD 17, the Roman arrived and Cappadocia became a province of the empire. The Christians came in the 3rd century AD, and Cappadocia soon became the dominant culture in the region where uncounted chapels and churches were carved out from the rocks. In the Medieval Ages, monastic communities flourished and so as caravanserais where trade routes connected Cappadocia with the world along the Silk Road. In the late Middle Ages, invasions from Turkmenistan, Mongolians, Seljuks and finally Ottomans wrapped up the ever changing story of Cappadocia.
Only 15 minutes from the town centre of Goreme, the Open Air Museum is one of the most popular attractions in Cappadocia. Despite the crowds, the UNESCO world heritage site is the best place to understand the a part of the history of Cappadocia.
In the midst of fairy chimneys, different kingdoms and communities left their marks in Cappadocia throughout history.
All communities in Cappadocia began in one of the many valleys. As soon as the first settlers discovered the unique properties of the volcanic rocks, cave communities emerged.
Small cave dwellings and pigeon holes were carved from the rock cliffs.
Small caves led to larger rock cut spaces as the communities evolved, such as the rock cut chapels constructed in the Middle Ages.
Goreme Open Air Museum hosts a number of the rock cut chapels and cave dwellings, mainly from the Byzantine era.
Despite the caves at the Open Air Museum have been abandoned for a long time, visitors today can still imagine how these cave communities might have operated centuries ago.
Many caves are only accessible via a flight of stairs.
What lies inside the caves are the real gem. The Karanlık Kilise or Dark Church contains some of the best preserved frescoes in the museum. It presents some great examples of Byzantine art.
NATURE’S SCULPTURE PARK, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
Our bus arrived in Goreme at around 08:00. Surprisingly the bus went all the way to the village centre, instead of the otogar at Nevsehir. Arriving at Cappadocia in early morning felt like waking up in another world: minimal traffic, occasional herds of sheep, stone houses and cave dwellings. But it was the bizarre rock formations, some of which towering straight up the sky known as fairy chimneys that captured our imagination. The unique rock formations of Cappadocia began 2.6 million years ago when eruption of the ancient volcano Mount Erciyes covered the area (about 20,000 square kilometres) with lava and ash. The ash later solidified into soft rocks exposed to erosion from wind and water. As most of the soft rocks were eroded away, the remaining hard rocks appeared like stone chimneys towering towards the sky.
We checked in at Hotel Elif Star to begin our temporary stay in a cave. The owner Jacky and her cat welcomed us. Jacky pulled out a map and recommended to us a number of hiking trails around the area, and a few lookouts for sunset watching.
In the midst of fairy chimney rock formations, unique valleys and the open air museum, Goreme is the main tourist hub in Cappadocia.
Inhabited since the Hittite era (1800-1200 BC), cave dwellings had been constructed in the era for thousands of years.
Throughout history, cave dwellings and underground structures have been carved out from the volcanic tuff. These rock-cut houses of Cappadocia provided homes and hideouts for people escaping from wars and persecutions from close and afar.
This world famous UNESCO world heritage town receives significant amount of tourists, reaching a record high of 3.8 million in 2019. When we visited in 2006, Goreme still maintained a relatively peaceful ambience.
Souvenir shops lined up the main street of Goreme.
Remnants from the past were still visible on the fairy chimneys in the side streets of Goreme.
Other than cave dwellings, other buildings in Goreme are also constructed with the local stones.
We stayed at Elif Star, one of the many cave hotels in Goreme.
This people-friendly cat approached us during our breakfast time at Elif Star.
Late afternoon offers the best moment to photograph the unique rock formations.
There are several popular spots to watch the sunset in and around Goreme.
Everyday, if weather is fine, tourists should be able to appreciate the scenery of fairy chimneys blanketed in the orange glow.
Around Goreme, there are a number of hiking trails to explore the interesting rock formations.
Even without exploring the surrounding valleys, visitors at Goreme can still get close to the fairy chimneys.
Cappadocia offered one of the best sunset scenery we have ever experienced.
We watched the sunset everyday while we were in Cappadocia.
At night, Goreme returns to its former tranquility after tourists make their way back to their hotels.
DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE, Dambulla, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.09
Day 5 (2 of 3).
We arranged a taxi from Sigiriya to Kandy, and made a stop at Dambulla to visit Sri Lanka’s largest cave temple complex. The UNESCO World Heritage site is usually visited along with Sigiriya or Kandy nearby. About 80 caves are found in Dambulla, with most of the highlights found in five caves. The 153 statues and 2,100 sq.m of murals of the Dambulla Cave Temple represent the finest example of Buddhist cave art on the island.
King Valagamba of Anuradhapura concerted earlier caves into a Buddhist temple in the 1st century BC. Later kings continued to expand the cave complex. By the 11th century, the caves had become an established religious centre on the island. This significant religious hub remains to the present. The white verandas and colonnades outside of the caves were added in 1938 as an embellishment to the two thousand year old cave temple network.
The 10 minute climb up to the rock temple prepared us spiritually for the visit.
Near the cave temple, a family of monkeys greeted all visitors with funny looks.
At the temple entrance stairway, a cat was busy chewing onto grass.
The 1938 verandas gave the ancient cave temple an elegant facade to greet visitors.
The Cave of the Divine King is dominated by the 14m long reclining Buddha.
Above the reclining Buddha, the walls and ceiling of the cave are covered with Buddhist murals.
The statue of Ananda, favourite pupil of the Buddha, stand next to the feet of the reclining Buddha.
A rather Western appearance of the 1938 veranda give the cave temple an elegant look, contributing to the fact that the cave temple is continuing to evolve as time goes by.
Reinforcement were added to the cave entrances.
Antique wooden booth inside the Cave of the Great Kings.
In Cave of the Great Kings, the largest cave of the temple, a small stupa and a “healing” spring dripping from a ceiling crack are two of the distinct features apart from the collection of statues and murals.
Every inch of the cave is covered by murals.
In this cave, King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa was responsible for gilding of 50 statues in the 12th century.
Artificial lighting have been installed to replace candles from the past.
Statue of what could have been King Vattagamani Abhaya or Valagamba, the first patron of the temple.
Throughout history, these caves have been repainted over and over again.
Lighting at some of the other caves are dimmer than the Cave of the Great Kings.
We loved the tranquil atmosphere of the lotus pond, white veranda and rock caves. After checking out the caves of Dambulla, we moved on to Kandy, the last historical capital of Sri Lanka before the colonial era.
NATURAL vs. MAN-MADE WONDER, High Island Reservoir East Dam (萬宜水庫東壩), Sai Kung (西貢), Hong Kong
Completed in 1978, High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫) is the largest reservoir in Hong Kong in terms of volume. Situated at the southeastern end of Sai Kung Peninsula, High Island Reservoir is surrounded by some of the city’s most scenic country parks and pristine beaches. Designated as an UNESCO geopark, the coastal areas near the East Dam (東壩) of the High Island Reservoir is filled with hexagonal volcanic columns unseen anywhere else in Hong Kong. 140 million years ago, catastrophic volcanic eruption covered much of the area in layers of tuff. The tuff cooled throughout time and gradually solidified to form rock. The hexagonal columns were formed from contraction during the cooling. Today, remnants from the highly active volcanic era become one of the most spectacular natural sights in the city. Equally impressive at the East Dam are the concrete dolosse blocks at one side of the Dam along the coast. Each dolos block weights up to 20 tons. They are used as wave breakers to protect the dam against the rough sea. To complete the beautiful picture, there are also sea caves and stack islands dotted around the coast, and the azure sky and boundless South China Sea.
From Sai Kung Town, the taxi ride to the East Dam, the furthest point of High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫), takes about 45 minutes.
The spectacular High Island Reservoir East Dam separates the buffer lake of the reservoir and the boundless South China Sea. Known as Po Pin Chau (破邊洲), the magnificent stack island outside of the East Dam is famous for its tall volcanic columns on one side of its cliff.
The concrete East Dam structure that separates the two sides of blue water is really photogenic.
The dolosse blocks pile up on the seaward side of the East Dam, creating a chaotic yet beautiful barrier. Walking on the dam, we could hear the waves but weren’t be able to find an open view of the sea unless we climbed on the dolosse blocks.
Once we climbed on the dolosse blocks, we were immediately overwhelmed by the sight of the powerful waves hitting against the coastal volcanic hexagonal columns.
We climbed down the dam, sat on one of the step and had a quick picnic lunch.
Looking inland, we could see the inner East Dam that separating the buffer pool with the main reservoir above. The massive dam structure looked to us as if merged with the adjacent natural landscape.
Sea caves are common features near the East Dam.
At the East Dam, natural volcanic hexagonal columns appear side by side with the manmade dolosse blocks.
To explore a bit of the surrounding coastal landscape, we decided to walk further into the trail heading to Fa Shan (花山) and Pak Lap (白臘). The trail was not very well defined, but we managed to find our way in the hill of shrubs reaching waist height.
Our goal was to at least to have a closer look at the cliff of volcanic columns of the stack island of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).
The coastal landscape in the area was truly spectacular. Some like to explore the area by sea kayaking.
Passing by the stone beach of Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘), we saw a few hikers watching the powerful waves.
Some visitors didn’t mind to get wet and chose to explore by boat.
Finally, we reached the closest lookout overlooking the magnificent Po Pin Chau (破邊洲).
The stone columns of Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) appeared like a gigantic church organ.
We then found our way down to the Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) to get a even closer look and even touch of the volcanic columns.
All cliff sides at Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣) or Rolling Stone Beach (滾石灘) were covered with stone columns.
After the hike out to Po Pin Chau (破邊洲) and Kim Chu Bay (撿豬灣), it was already late afternoon by the time we returned to the East Dam.
Instead of calling a taxi, we decided to walk back out to the main road where we could take a public bus. The route led us to go along a little over half the perimeter of High Island Reservoir and took about two hours.
Beyond the haze we could see the Sharp Peak or Nam She Tsim (蚺蛇尖) in a distance, a popular challenge for hikers in Hong Kong.
Soon the full moon was up over the tranquil water of High Island Reservoir.
The scenery of High Island Reservoir was serene and calm.
We enjoyed a few minutes of perfect sunset when we reached the West Dam (西壩). Beyond the West Dam was Port Shelter Sea (牛尾海) and a series of islands. The closest island was Tai Tau Chau (大頭洲).
As the sun gradually set, we picked up our pace of walking. Known as the Maclehose Trail Section 1, the trail surrounding High Island Reservoir was long but relative flat and easy. By the time we reached the bus stop at Tai Mong Tsai Road it was almost dark.